Beads on a String – Special Purpose Beads

This is the third in a three part series. In this post I cover user of beads beyond the devotional. The first post went into basic history and construction tips. The second post covered the creation and use of my personal devotional beads, so people wanting to make their own could see one person’s process from beginning to end. I highly recommend reading the other posts before this one.  

A set of beads on a string can be more than a way to count. When using beads in creative ways I like to call them “special purpose beads”. Others call them things like “witch’s ladders”. Whatever the name, they can be incredibly handy tools.

There are a ton of applications for special purpose beads. I’ve included a few uses with specific examples, along with some tips on approach. Please, feel free to play with these ideas and see what you come up with. This list is in no way definitive, so be creative!

Spell Work – The Witch’s Ladder

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This is a traditionally made witch’s ladder. Note the three colors of cording used, and the variety of beads.

For those who don’t know, cord magick is… a method of magick using cords. Sometimes it really is that easy. It can get super flowery and flouncy if desired, but at its core it’s one of the basic ways of doing any kind of spell work.

One variation of this is called a “witch’s ladder”. It’s a bit fancier than basic cord magick, so I figured it deserved some coverage here.

It’s made using 3 cords of equal length: one white, one red, and one black. (These are the colors that correspond to the Triple Goddess concept. Feel free to use colors that correspond to the intended purpose instead.) You’ll also need 9 “shineys” – beads, feathers, charms, anything that both fits the working and can be knotted into a braid.

Tie the cords all together at one end and start to braid them. Every inch or so, slide a bead onto a strand and continue braiding. If you like, instead of braiding you can simply knot the threads together in front of and behind every shiny bit to keep it secure.

This is a standard cord magick poem/spell that is usually said while the knots are done or the beads are added:

By knot of one, the spell’s begun.
By knot of two, these words are true.
By knot of three, it comes to be.
By knot of four, power in store.
By knot of five, this spell’s alive.
By knot of six, this spell is fixed.
By knot of seven, the answer’s given.
By knot of eight, it’s up to fate.
By knot of nine, the thing is mine.

Because the memorized poem is standardized (mostly – there are variations around), and because it can be used for any purpose, the practitioner gets the benefit of memorized chants while avoiding a lot of the prep work. In basic cord magick the poem is not usually repeated, but if you’re going to fancy it up anyway…

I’m a big believer in repetition and charging, so it doesn’t feel like “enough” without it. When I do cord magick (which is admittedly rare) I tend to make 3 sets of knots for a total of 27, going through the poem 3 times. I start off with a big knot where I state my purpose. Then I do one set, make another purpose knot, do another set, make another purpose knot, then do a final set with a final purpose knot. That gives me a total of four purpose knots, which to my mind numerologically “anchors” my working. That also brings the total number of knots up to 31, or 3+1, which is another 4 to anchor.

I go through the whole strand every night for 3 or 9 nights (depending on issue severity), running the knots through my fingers and charging them as I go. Once I’m through with the series I tend to burn the cord, releasing all that energy into the universe at once (and if that’s your plan, wooden beads and charms are the way to go). Other options are to bury the cord, toss it in running water, sew it into a poppet, or do anything else that corresponds with the intended purpose.

Uniting People from a Distance – The Scattered Working Group

The Sacred Cauldron

Exclusively online groups are becoming more and more commonplace – this is one of the ritual sites used by the Sacred Cauldron group in SecondLife.

Human beings crave touch. It grounds us, supports intimacy, and unites us with each other. One of the hardest things for anyone to handle when trying to maintain relationships at a distance is that lack of contact. Phones and computers can only go so far. Beads can be a beautiful bridge between a voice and a touch.

Let’s say you’re a member of a group – a working devotional group, a group working for a cause, a support group, anything – that for whatever reason works apart. There’s no way to share physical contact when you’re communicating solely with Skype or phone calls or emails or whatever. But each member holding something identical to what other members of the group are holding? Saying the same words the other members are saying? All going to that same mental headspace of meditative listening and experience? That can unite a group at a whole new level.

The idea is simple. Have the group, together, design a set of beads using the tips provided in the first post of this series. Members can choose to standardize materials, sizes, etc as well as design. Ordering supplies from the same website is one way to do that. Another approach is to have one person make them all and mail them out. Or have each member make one, then exchange it with other members so that everyone has a set made by someone else. The more uniform the experience, the more the experience can unify.

Write affirmations that suit the purpose: support for each member, for the general purpose of the group, for peace and healing, whatever. Make them simple and formulaic to improve memorization. Then do them all together. Options for that include using them to open and/or close working meetings, doing them individually as part of a daily practice, doing them when engaging in the purpose of the group… lots of potential here!

Community Experiences – Raising Energy with Litanies

The meditative headspace that occurs when using beads can be very potent when reached and maintained simultaneously by a group. This technique is great for people sharing an experience, especially experiences with a clear purpose. It really shines when used for Sabbats or deity honorings.

Working with a group is tricky, though, especially a group that’s not used to working together. One of my personal rules when dealing with groups is that the possible complexity is directly inverse to the number of people present. In other words, the more people you have the simpler the event has to be. Simplify even more when the group is larger than about 6 and/or when the group consists of people with different experience and/or discipline levels. Memorization is usually doomed to failure, and trying to attain it shatters the headspace before it’s even reached.

Litanies, also known as calls and responses, are a way to vastly simplify while still taking advantage of the extra energy available in a group. One person calls out a series of phrases or sentences addressing the agreed-upon purpose. All the attendees respond to everything in the series with the same short phrase. Attendees get all the benefits of repetition, all that meditative headspace, in addition to the joy of sharing in the group experience, without the need for lengthy memorization.

The rhythm of the litany gives the meditative headspace a boost too. It’s easy to sink into, and hearing everyone around you saying and doing the same thing you are can reinforce the experience. Since everyone is doing it, litanies can also help unite strangers into a group very quickly.

Energy is raised higher and faster than is usually possible solo, so be prepared for that. Much of that energy will naturally funnel into the beads. That can be useful later, either by collecting energy for one mass release at a later time, or allowing participants to take that energy home and revisit that headspace later.

The first step is to design a set of beads that suits the tone, correspondences, and purpose of the event in question. The design should be something simple and easy to reproduce. Materials-wise, I suggest going for something inexpensive and durable. Wood and/or knotted cords of a natural material do well for these. Plastic can work too, especially if we’re talking wet or rough conditions. Consider ensuring that the number of beads used is a number sacred to the deity/person or a multiple of such a number.

For this example we are honoring the Greek goddess Aphrodite.

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A child assists Aphrodite with Her toilette on this medallion dating from between 300-200 BCE.

Checking out correspondences I find that the number 6 is associated with Her. With that in mind I would use 36 beads, or 6 x 6. Further correspondences lead me to colors and images I can use in the beads.

Once the beads are designed it’s time to write the litany. I love using a list of epithets for litany-based deity honorings. An epithet is a word or phrase that describes a deity’s qualities. Aphrodite is associated with a huge number of epithets, so my first stop when writing a litany would be to check those out. If I couldn’t find a full 36 traditional epithets I would fill in the rest of the space with ones based on stories and impressions of Her.  Here’s a sample:

Call: All hail the daughter of Zeus!
Response: Aphrodite, we honor You!
Call: All hail the Mother of Desire!
Response: Aphrodite, we honor You!
Call: All hail the Foam-Born!
Response: Aphrodite, we honor You!
Call: All hail the Shining One!
Response: Aphrodite, we honor You!

The Caller would go through the entire list of epithets – perhaps more than once – while attendees responded and moved their beads. All the while the energy they raised would flow into the strands they held. The only one who has to worry about what comes next is the person doing the Calling. All the Response people can focus exclusively on the honoring and energy raising parts.

There are a couple of ways to handle all that energy when it’s ready:

– Keep doing this, round and around, until the energy peaks (just like a cone of power). At a pre-arranged signal, all the attendees throw their beads into a central fire simultaneously, releasing all of the energy gathered as an offering to Her.

– Attendees take the strands home, to place on their altars as a devotional tool to honor Her privately or request Her blessings.

– Honoring could be done over the next 6 days privately to intensify a connection before the beads were burned or, considering the goddess in question, tossed into the sea for Her.

There are of course many other applications of this technique out there too. So be creative!

Exploring Sacred Texts – The Song of Amergin

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“Seven Tines”, inspired by the Song of Amergin.

For those of us lucky enough to have source material to work with, beads make excellent tools for exploring the deeper and more symbolic meanings of certain texts.

Irish literature has graced us with “The Song of Amergin”, a poem of rich imagery and power. Some say it holds the elements of the Celtic view of creation within it. Others believe it’s a guide to shape-shifting. And still others think it’s simply the boasting of a powerful sorcerer at the height of his successes.

Whichever you go with, special purpose beads are a definite way to explore it.

First, here is the whole Song:

I am a stag of seven tines,
I am a flood across a plain,
I am a wind on a deep lake,
I am a tear the Sun lets fall,
I am a hawk above the cliff,
I am a thorn beneath the nail,
I am a wonder among flowers,
I am a wizard – who but I
Sets the cool head aflame with smoke?

I am a spear that roars for blood,
I am a salmon in a pool,
I am a lure from paradise,
I am a hill where poets walk,
I am a boar ruthless and red,
I am a breaker threatening doom,
I am a tide that drags to death,
I am an infant – who but I
Peeps from the unhewn dolmen arch?

 I am the womb of every holt,
I am the blaze on every hill,
I am the queen of every hive,
I am the shield for every head,
I am the tomb of every hope.

There so much here to work with! Here’s one way to tackle it.

Find a bead or charm that calls each line to your mind: a piece of antler, a swirling blue bead, a large wavy sequin, an amber teardrop. Since there is a definite beginning and end to this piece I’d go with a straight strand instead of a circlet. Carefully select beads one by one, follow the guidelines in the first post regarding spacers and the like, and make a visual representation of the work. You can choose to add a bead between every verse, decide whether the last two lines of the first two verses count as one bead or two, etc.

To use, get comfortable with the beads, the poem if you don’t know it, and a pad of paper.

Go straight through the beads on the first pass to get a feel of the Song in its entirety. You can say each line as you finger the bead, or say something like Song of Amergin, inspire me! as each bead moves.

On the second pass, linger over each bead. Hold the antler piece and repeat “I am a stag of seven tines” over and over while letting your mind dwell on it. What is the significance of a stag? Of the number seven? Of the tines? Of the fact that it’s specifically a stag and not a doe? Write anything interesting down on the pad, and continue to the next bead when you’re ready. Do this until all beads are covered.

On the third pass, think about how each bead relates to the ones around it. The stag leads to the flood – is it the stag’s home that’s being flooded? Does the flood then become a lake the wind can cross? Are the tines mentioned in the first line of the first verse related to the spear mentioned in the first line of the second verse, and If so how? Finalize this pass and write down anything interesting.

For the fourth and final pass, go through it one more time in its entirety to see how the meaning might have changed with the new insights gained through deeper analysis.

Directing Meditation and Checking In – The Nine Noble Virtues

 Beads are a wonderful way to focus and direct meditations. One of the best uses I’ve found for this type of special purpose bead set is checking in with yourself ethically, and something like the Nine Noble Virtues lends itself really well to this.

The Nine Noble Virtues are a set of ethical principles distilled from an examination of surviving Norse source material, specifically the Eddas. They were first codified as the Nine Noble Virtues by a group called the Odinic Rite in the 1970s and are still used today by many following a Norse Reconstructionist or Norse inspired path.

The Nine Noble Virtues are Courage, Truth, Honor, Fidelity, Discipline, Hospitality, Self-Reliance, Industriousness, and Perseverance.

For this set of beads get use whatever cording material you like, 36 large-ish unfinished wooden beads in the lightest color you can find, and much smaller wooden beads in red, blue, green, and yellow as spacers.

Using a fine-tipped sharpie or a paint pen on the large beads, make four sets of “Virtue Beads”. Just write the name of the virtue directly on the wood. You can use acrylic over the wood if desired to protect your writing, but it’s not required.

String them in sets. The first set should use red spacers, the second green, the third blue, and the fourth yellow. You can decide if you want them as a strand or a circlet.

When they’re ready to use, sit down with the beads and a pad of paper. Go through the red set and think about how you define each Virtue. What does “Courage” mean to you personally? How have you demonstrated it in the past? Have you allowed Courage to turn into stupidity lately? Write down anything that comes up and proceed through all the Virtues in this fashion.

For the green set, think about all the Virtues in relation to your physical body, your financial security, and the land spirits. Have you been treating your body with honesty and discipline? How have you worked to secure your finances? Have you been hospitable to the local land spirits? Where have you fallen down on the job? Where could you improve things? Write down anything that comes up.

For the blue set, think about all the Virtues in relation to others in your life, both living and dead. Have you been loyal to your loved ones? Have you stuck with them when things got tough? Are those who are close to you showing you the same care and concern you show them? Where have you faltered, and how could you improve? Write down anything that comes up.

For the yellow set, think about the Virtues in relation to the gods. Have you honored Them and showed Them hospitality? Do you depend on Them more than you should? Do you throw your all into your service to Them? Where have you faltered, and how could you improve? Write down anything that comes up.

Finally, set the beads down and look over your notes. Track the trends, make improvements, really use your results as a growth opportunity. Repeat as needed.

Conclusion

These are just a few of the options out there – I had to cut 4 other examples from this post due to length, and I’ve got a whole other post planned for a specific use with lots of variations. Experiment and see how you can start incorporating strands of beads into your daily practice too!

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